Collection of Letters of Sir Robert Sibbald (1641-1722)

Scope and Content

The collection is composed of copies of letters from Sibbald to Sir Hans Sloane.

Administrative / Biographical History

Robert Sibbald was born in Edinburgh on 15 April 1641. He was educated in Cupar in Fife, Dundee, and Edinburgh, and studied at Edinburgh University. At first it was thought he would enter the Church but then he decided on medicine and in 1660 went to Leiden in the Netherlands. After taking his degree of MD in 1661 with a dissertation entitled De variis tabis speciebus he went to Paris and then to Angers. In 1662 he returned to Edinburgh by way of London. In 1667, after obtaining some ground belonging to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, he and Dr. Andrew Balfour established a botanical garden. His scheme soon attracted the attention of other physicians interested in the plants that might be exploited for medicine and ground was leased beside the city's Trinity Hospital. Sibbald was also one of the founders of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh which obtained a charter in 1681. In 1682 he was appointed physician to Charles II and in the same year he was made Geographer of Scotland. Sibbald had begun to make collections for a geographical and statistical account of Scotland including a description of its natural history. His publications include Nuncius Scoto-Britannus, de descriptione Scotiae antiquae et modernae (1683), Scotia illustrata; sive prodomus historiae naturalis; in quo regionis natura, incolarum ingenia et mores, morbid iisque medendi methodus, et medicina indigena, accurate explicantur (1684), Provision for the poor in the time of dearth and scarcity (1699), History ancient and modern of the Sheriffdom of Fife and Kinross (1710), and Specimen glossarii de populis et locis Britanniae borealis, in explicatione locorum quorundam difficilium apud scriptores veteres (1711). Sir Robert Sibbald died in August 1722.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Lee, Sidney (ed.) Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 18. Shearman-Stovin. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1909.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.


Check the local Indexes for details of any additions.

Related Material

The local Indexes show another reference related material (check the Indexes for more details): letter to Sibbald from W. Nicolson, Bishop of Carlisle, 1702, in La.II.644/4/85. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: miscellaneous papers, circa 1682-1701, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, Ref. Adv MSS 6 1 14; 33 3 20, 27; 33 5 15-16, 19; collections for a natural history of Scotland (copy), circa 1700, British Geological Survey Library, Ref. IGS3 NRA 18675 Inst of Geol; transcriptions from his collections made for Walter MacFarlan, Society of Antiquaries of London, Ref. MS 32 NRA 27819 Society; letters mainly to Sir Hans Sloane, 1696-1714, British Library, Manuscript Collections, Ref. Sloane MSS; and, letters to Royal Society, 1692-1698, Royal Society.